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The United States faces a wider variety of threats right now than at any other time in recent memory. It is important that at this volatile time in the world, policymakers understand the wide spectrum of threats facing the country.

Congress could do several things to stop persistent budget shortfalls facing the Pentagon. The best answer to confronting these threats is by using our resources to be sure that our military men and women are the most prepared of any force in the world to confront any threats.

One of the few bipartisan agreements on Capitol Hill focuses on the importance of increasing funding for the troops’ readiness. At this time, “we are unable to generate readiness for unknown contingencies and under our current budget, army readiness will at best flatline over the next three to four years,” former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno said last year. Today’s military readiness is at “historically low levels,” he said.

Gen. John Paxton, the assistant commandant of the Marines, told senators last year that half of the corps’ units in the United States are not at “readiness levels needed to execute wartime missions, respond to unexpected crises and surge for major contingencies.”[1]

Current Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), Rep. Mac Thornberry, is opting to use $18 billion from the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund to help boost the Pentagon’s base budget. This would not alter the 2017 final budgetary numbers, but it would take that $18 billion dollars from the operations and maintenance fund.[2]

In addition to the Obama Administration’s current budget proposal, the House Armed Services Committee has marked up their budget to include: 11 additional F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, $1.5 billion for 14 F/A-18E/F combat aircraft, 2 V-22 Osprey aircraft, 36 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters, and 5 Apache attack helicopters. They also included funding to maintain 480,000 active duty soldiers in the Army while adding 3,000 Marines and 4,000 airmen in Fiscal Year (FY) 2017. They also include $592 million to procure critical munitions that have recently been used in Iraq and Syria. In addition, the committee directed the Air Force to look into the cost of restarting Lockheed Martin’s F-22 Raptor fighter jet line, which was dismantled approximately 5 years ago.

The House Armed Services Committee wants to considerably increase funding for shipbuilding in FY17. It has proposed $20.6 billion, $2.3 billion more than the Administration’s budget request. Through this funding the subcommittee would prevent the Navy from inactivating 11 of its 22 guided-missile cruisers under a “phased modernization plan,” Chairman of the subcommittee Randy Forbes said. This funding would also prevent the Navy from reducing one of its 10 Carrier Air Wings.

Their subcommittee markup includes; $433 million for a new destroyer, $856 million for an amphibious ship, $385 million for another Littoral Combat Ship, doubles Tomahawk missile production and asks the Navy for a report on procuring more Virginia class fast-attack submarines. Congressman Forbes has stated that this is the largest shipbuilding funding level since 1988. It also contains funding for additional C-130Js and C-40s aircraft.

The United States Marine Corps has always understood they must do more with less, “senior Marine officers are warning that the Corps’ aviation service is being stretched to the breaking point.”[3] Today, a large majority of Marine Corps aircraft are not maintained at the level necessary for them to be able to fly.

There are several reasons that these aircraft have been grounded, including the wear and tear the long wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq have had on them. Now, with the fight against ISIS and budget cuts eliminating the ability to purchase parts needed to fix an aging fleet, the Marines have been forced to go outside the normal supply chain to acquire desperately needed parts. Cannibalization, the taking of parts from one aircraft to get other aircraft airborne, has become the norm for the Marines Corps air assets.[4]

“Out of 276 F/A-18 Hornet strike fighters in the Marine Corps inventory, only about 30 percent are ready to fly, according to statistics provided by the Corps. Similarly, only 42 of 147 heavy-lift CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters are airworthy. We don’t have enough of them to do the added work efficiently. We are making it a lot harder on the young marines who are fixing our aircraft,” said Maj. Michael Malone of Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 31 to Fox news.

“We are an operational squadron. We are supposed to be flying jets, not building them,” said Lt. Col. Harry Thomas, Commanding Officer of VMFA-312, a Marine Corps F/A-18 squadron based at Beaufort.

Not only is the lack of funding inhibiting Marine Corps aircraft from being airborne, but it is greatly diminishing the training hours necessary to keep Marine pilots the best in the world.

“This last 30 days our average flight time per pilot was just over 4 hours,” said Thomas. Only a decade ago, Marine Corps pilots averaged between 25 and 30 hours in the air each month, according to one pilot. “Our aviation readiness is really my No. 1 concern,” Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller told Congress last month. “We don’t have enough airplanes that we would call ready basic aircraft.”

In recent decades, we have seen the Pentagon bureaucracy funding steadily outpace funding for those in uniform in the field. The Pentagon could save tens of billions of dollars if it could cut much of the large bureaucracy within the Pentagon and combatant command headquarters. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has recently suggested cutting headquarters staff by up to 25 percent.

It is clear that there are many hard choices for policymakers to make. The first and most important decision law makers must make is to ensure sequestration does not return again and decimate our military and jeopardize our national security.

There are several alternatives that could be addressed to begin building our nation’s military to the point that it is able to handle current national security threats. Most importantly, find the additional $18 billion to fund the necessary requirements without taking it from the operations and maintenance fund. Continue to increase the number of Air Force, Naval, and Marine air assets in the Pentagon’s inventory.

In addition to funding the procurement of these planes, it is important to identify the shortfalls of components and parts for these various platforms. It is absolutely crucial that all of our military service pilots get the necessary training hours in the air to ensure their ability to remain the best pilots in the world.

The safety of our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines must always remain our number one priority when considering funding for the Department of Defense’s annual budget.


[1] Sirota, David, and Andrew Perez. “US Military Readiness In Question Amid Calls For Syria Invasion Against ISIS.” International Business Times. N.p., 11 Dec. 2015. Web. 26 Apr. 2016.

[2] Hartung, William D. “Things Lawmakers Should Do Before They Complain About Military Readiness.” Defense One. N.p., 22 Apr. 2016. Web. 22 Apr. 2016.

[3] Griffin, Jennifer, and Lucas Tomlinson. “Budget Cuts Leaving Marine Corps Aircraft Grounded.” N.p., 17 Apr. 2016. Web. 22 Apr. 2016.

[4] Griffin, Jennifer, and Lucas Tomlinson. “Budget Cuts Leaving Marine Corps Aircraft Grounded.” N.p., 17 Apr. 2016. Web. 22 Apr. 2016.